LOMBARD, ILLINOIS, MAY 28, 2021—There’s no doubt that outgoing Franco Bibbiano is a confident 14-year-old. But that was not always true for this boy with Down syndrome who struggled to articulate and share his thoughts and ideas with others. Franco will now take center stage and cut the ribbon at the Friday, June 4 (4:30-6:00 pm) grand reopening of the speech-language pathology clinic that helped him find his voice.
As with all children, there is a wide range of abilities, behavior and physical development among children with Down syndrome. For Elena Cutri, Franco’s mother, it was heartbreaking to watch her child try to speak with his peers in a classroom setting, only to see the other children disengaging because they couldn’t understand what Franco was saying. “Even though Franco was receiving some speech therapy, it wasn’t enough,” remembers Cutri. “I knew something had to change and I feared if it didn’t, Franco might miss all those opportunities to make friends.” That was four years ago and Franco has been improving his articulation, literacy and confidence ever since, thanks in large part to CHAT (Communication Health, Advocacy, and Therapy).
As the only Chicagoland nonprofit dedicated to speech and language services and a pioneer in communication justice, CHAT has a unique responsibility to serve and advocate for those children whose communication disorders and differences contribute to their inequitable treatment. Diverse learners are often overlooked or misunderstood, especially those whose families have limited resources, limited English, or who are unsure about their rights, particularly over the past year as COVID-19 has widen social justice disparities. CHAT believes that all children deserve access to high quality speech-language services regardless of their socio-economic status, or any other demographics. By accepting Medicaid without quotas and offering services at no cost to many families, CHAT is working to bridge the equity gap that exists in healthcare and education.
“CHAT has been instrumental in Franco’s growth and self-confidence,” said Cutri. “By having a consistent therapist that he sees twice a week who really understands Franco’s abilities and challenges has made all the difference.” As Franco heads off to high school in a few months, Elena knows there will still be difficult times and obstacles that Franco will have to overcome, but with CHAT at her side, advocating for her son, the future feels so much brighter. “My hope is that Franco will be able to lead a happy and independent life when he grows up,” said Cutri. “Franco’s ability to communicate with friends, his teachers and eventually an employer are the key to his success and I feel so fortunate to have found CHAT.”
For more than 40 years, CHAT (formerly known as the Center for Speech and Language or CSLD) has changed lives through engaging therapy that works. Centered in social justice, CHAT provides life-changing speech therapy at our clinic, in schools, and via community partners to those with few—if any—other options. Our speech-language pathologists tailor services specifically to children’s needs, approach their work with deep cultural humility, and understand the need for systemic change in healthcare and education so that our students can be more sustainably supported. This understanding underlies CHAT’s work in what we call “Communication Justice,” which involves effecting change for under-resourced and under-represented people whose communication disorders and differences contribute to their inequitable treatment. CHAT believes in building on children’s strengths and empowering them to find their voice.